Non-Fiction - Relationships
208 Pages
Reviewed on 11/17/2017
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Author Biography

Florence St. John was born in Brooklyn, New York. After moving to Georgia, she graduated from Kennesaw State University with a Bachelor’s Degree. She now lives in Florida. Other books include, Entangled with a Sociopath and Searching for the Shire.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Gisela Dixon for Readers' Favorite

Borderline: The Illusion of Insanity by Florence St. John is a non-fiction memoir of what it is like to live and grow up in a dysfunctional family. Borderline delves into inter-generational dysfunction in a family in which mental illness forms a part of the dynamic. Florence writes about herself, her daughter, and her parents, sister, cousins, and how they all form a part of the larger picture. The book starts with an introduction by Florence to her daughter's behavior in school, and then discusses her personal and family issues that include personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, co-dependent personality disorder, etc. and how she has learnt over the years to understand and love not only her family members, but also herself.

Although the title suggests this may be a book strictly about borderline personality disorder or BPD, Borderline: The Illusion of Insanity is actually a memoir about family dysfunction, and how trauma and mental illness are inevitably a part of the dynamic. The writing style in the book is easy to read and is written in layperson terms. In fact, as Florence herself states, this book is strictly to be referred to as a personal memoir and not as a textbook on any mental illness because Florence herself is not a professional. The book certainly proves once again how environmental factors play an even more important role in the development of any mental illness; more so than genetic factors in most cases. For anyone looking to read someone’s personal experience of personality disorders and family dysfunction, this may be an interesting read.

Viga Boland

Perhaps you’ve already read Entangled with a Sociopath by Florence St. John? If so, you’ll understand how what St. John shares about her upbringing, and that of her daughter, Marie, in Borderline led to how she became entangled with a sociopath in her later years. For many women, the hardest part about reading Borderline, especially as it draws to a close, will be how readily we recognize ourselves in this section of the author’s life experience. Seriously, the women in her life - her mother, her sisters, her daughter - are an incredible example of how the mistakes, issues and shortcomings of the female parent are carried on down through the generations of women in one family. Little wonder that, at one point in Borderline, St. John reflects how mothers always get blamed for everything that goes wrong with their children. It’s hard to admit it, but there just may be some truth in that.

Borderline actually begins with St. John trying to deal with her teenage daughter, Marie, who locks herself in a pigsty of a bedroom, cuts herself, is angry all the time and “hates” her mother. As the author looks for possible explanations to her daughter’s behaviour, eventually reaching the conclusion Marie is bi-polar, she is forced to look much further into the past. There, she locates some of the triggers for Marie’s behaviour, not the least of which is her own tendency to protect her daughter by always speaking up for her, being afraid to administer tough love, and keeping an emotional distance from Marie even when she has always loved her dearly; essentially, almost trying too hard to be a better mother than her own was!

As the author sifts through the decades of her life, and now, after having studied copious material on the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder (for which, by the way, she supplies a lengthy bibliography of resources), she has discovered so much more about Marie’s issues and her own, one of the biggest of which for her is co-dependency. Co-dependency is responsible for what she endures with that sociopath and narcissist in Entangled. You see, co-dependents have a “tendency to take care of everyone except themselves.” Sound like anyone you know? I certainly do.

Further, as St. John writes: “My values have always been open to compromise, thus weak, based on my desire to bond and build relationships. I never felt I had the right to say ‘no’ and complied with the needs of others…” The result of that inability? “People-pleasing seemed to be a main culprit. Obsessive about proving my worth, I’d always put myself last to get people to like me. When successful, I’d bask in my accomplishments, albeit short-lived. The admiration and praise was never enough to soothe my inner child for long.” And the ultimate effect of all this on her daughter, Marie? “Trapped in a vicious cycle with my daughter, I bent over backwards to avoid her rage, and became her enabler!”

Borderline is utterly enlightening for any mother, or any person who may find themselves battling the same demons and not recognizing exactly what those demons are. If one cannot pinpoint the demons, the triggers for our responses to situations and what others say and do, we cannot help ourselves or those we love most. Borderline is an important book. Highly recommended reading.

Grant Leishman

Three generations of women, all suffering from the same malady – Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This is the scenario presented to us by Florence St. John in her memoir Borderline: The Illusion of Insanity. As parents, we’ve all made that promise that we won’t treat our children in the same “awful” way our parents treated us. No, we will do things differently. Although Florence made all those same promises to herself about her own daughter, she soon came to realise that, in many ways, her daughter was a representation of herself growing up, with all the same anxieties and doubts that she had experienced. Florence takes us on a journey of her life, with an alcoholic father and a mother who raised her children in competition with each other for her attention and love. Later in life, Florence will seek an understanding of her condition through research and group therapy. Only then will she come to understand the true nature of Borderline Personality Disorder and its effects on her family.

I found Florence St. John’s story honest and objective. There was no attempt to shy away from her difficulties or to blame others. Yes, her mother’s attitude toward her children did leave Florence floundering, but ultimately, she needed to discover that the power of healing and control lay within herself. I was impressed with the author’s ability to step away from herself and look with objectivity at the difficult situation facing her own daughter. You could feel the love for her family flowing through every word and yet, equally, you could also sense the immense frustration this woman was feeling at her inability to break the cycle of BPD and find answers. Borderline is not an easy book to read. I have no doubt that many other readers will feel the discomfort I personally felt when reading aspects of Florence's and her family’s lives that could be just as easily applied to my own. This isn’t a psychological treatise; it is a frank, honest, and open discussion about one woman’s fight for “normality” and self-discovery in her somewhat dysfunctional family. A thought provoking and rewarding read.